Bar says expanding scope of legal aid better than promoting legal expenses insurance
Expanding the scope of legal aid is a better way of increasing access to justice than promoting greater uptake of legal expenses insurance, the chair of the Bar Council of Northern Ireland has said.
Bar Chair Sarah Ramsey spoke at the launch of a new report on legal expenses insurance and access to justice at the International Bar Association’s annual conference in Seoul, South Korea this week.
The IBA report suggests that greater uptake of legal expenses insurance (LEI) by individuals could increase access to justice for the “forgotten middle” – individuals without disposable income to spend on private legal services, but whose earnings or assets prohibit qualification for legal aid or pro bono assistance.
Commenting on the launch, Ms Ramsey said: “This conference has been as valuable opportunity for us to learn from the experience of colleagues from over 120 countries at the largest international gathering of the legal profession in the world.
“I was delighted to have a platform to speak at the launch of this new research into legal expenses insurance and provide the perspective of practitioners working in Northern Ireland, alongside colleagues from England and Wales, Australia and Germany.”
Addressing the content of the report, she added: “Usage of LEI is very limited in our jurisdiction at present with a lack of awareness generally amongst the public.
“In recent years various policy reviews, such as Access to Justice Reviews I and II plus the Gillen Review of Civil Justice, have touched on the potential to expand LEI coverage across NI but acknowledged that more research is still needed into the practicalities of this in our jurisdiction. This new report provides a useful global perspective on policy development in this area.
“However, we must also continue to defend and strengthen access to publicly funded legal services and challenge policy makers to bring deserving cases within the scope of legal aid rather than seeking alternatives to this indispensable part of our justice system.”